MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Begin Again’


Film: Begin Again
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Kiera Knightley
Directed by: John Carney

Using essentially the same set of skills that helped make Once an international success, John Carney has struck gold a second time by blending music and drama in Begin Again.

Dan is an aging record label executive that has become disinterested in the music being played at radio today. He got into music to invest in real musicians with unique points of view, but he’s come to the realization that that type of talent is a very rare breed. He’s been searching for seven years to find a new voice to cling to, and perhaps more importantly to save his once great career, but try as he might, no amount of alcohol or endless car rides spent spinning demo disks can seem to produce something that he cannot ignore. That is, until he drunkenly stumbles into a tiny bar in New York City hosting an open mic night at the tail end of what could very well be the worst day of his life. There he meets Greta, a songwriter with a broken heart who has never given much thought to being a musician herself. Sparks fly, but not the kind you might expect, and soon their relationship produces the type of music that Dan has been searching for his entire life.

There is no great mystery or reveal awaiting viewers at the end of Begin Again. Much like Once, the film feels far more focused on its journey than its resolution, which makes the entire ride a thoroughly enjoyable experience that is able to skip the typical twists one finds in films that try to blend music and drama. It’s a story rooted in believable characters with relatable problems that eventually serve as the basis for the art we watch them create. There are no songs without purpose or random dance breaks with colorful outfits, but rather a collection of reflections on life and love that is sprinkled with the occasional heart string-pulling anthem.

Mark Ruffalo is fantastic as Dan, which allows the actor so often referred to as ‘the guy who plays The Hulk’ to once again showcase his range outside the world of superhero films. The entire film relies on audiences finding a way to love a man who has lost the ability to even love himself, and even though there are times you wish his edges were a bit softer it’s nearly impossible to resist the subtle charm Ruffalo brings to this role.

Likewise, Keira Knightley is a dream, offering a fantastic turn as the ever-melancholy Greta. She’s already long proven her ability to act beside A-list celebrities, but here we are able to see a side of Knightley that I do hope appears far more often in the future: her singing voice. While Ruffalo is the person viewers need to love in spite of his shortcomings, Knightley plays the type of character you are only able to love as long as she delivers. Her songs, while not quite as strong as those in Carney’s previous films, are laced with emotional undertones and heartache that feels too real to be entirely performance based.

The supporting cast all fill their roles admirably, but the one who steals the show is almost undoubtedly Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. Though I do feel his emotional turn in the second act feels a bit too forced for its own good, he delivers as both an actor and vocalist in spades. There are even a few subtle digs at his own music and the way a song that is wonderful when played in a simple way can lose its heart if overproduced. If that is not the best critique of the last Maroon 5 record I don’t know what is.

There are a number of similarities between Once and Begin Again, but not one feels more obvious than the fact viewers are once again subject to an unconventional love story told, at least in part, through music. Where each story goes from that shared bit of exposition, however, could not be more different. Where Once was about love and the love people share for art, Begin Again addresses aging as a creative type and the ways corporations will make you lose focus on what really matters in both life and art. Is their heartache in both? You bet your ass. Are they the same story? Not in the slightest.

With the release of Begin Again John Carney has cemented his title as the best filmmaker working with music right now. His ability to weave beautiful portraits of life out of simple stories about creative people is nothing short of astounding, and the fact he does it all with music that no one has heard prior to the film being released only makes everything more impressive. This film may not be the best picture you see all year, but it will certainly move you. See it.


Review written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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